The Federal Court System

an explanation in parts


The lowest level of district courts, this is where cases are heard for the first time, because of original jurisdiction, and where trials are held and lawsuits begin. Each district court has a magistrate judge, who decide whether or not cases go to trial based on preliminary evidence. All states have one or more of these courts, which hear both civil and criminal cases, with 94 total nationwide. After the final decision, if a party is unhappy, they may appeal to an appellate court.


Next in the chain of authority, appeals courts have appellate jurisdiction which allows them to hear cases appealed from lower courts. The 12 appeals courts of the U.S. preside over regions called circuits. The decisions appeals courts make must be backed with an opinion written by an appellate judge that explains the courts thinking. The decision sets a precedent, a standard, for other courts to follow. The Federal Circuit is presided over by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which doesn't hold trials but instead reviews case records and upholds or reverses the decision, or sends it back to lower courts, which is a remand.